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When Did Popular French and International Food Arrive in Britain?

Monday February 3, 2020

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French cuisine has always been associated with gastronomic prestige. Classical French cooking techniques, such as sautéing, have been implemented globally to shape many new international dishes. Naturally then, the French are proud of their sophisticated culinary history.

It’s no surprise that the wonderfully diverse United Kingdom welcomed an influx of French food and cooking methods. The people of Britain have adopted the artisan cheese and wine spread when hosting an elegant evening, on top of integrating the croissant into their breakfast routine and dauphinoise potatoes into their Sunday roast.

As champions of modern French cuisine complemented by traditional French and British practices, it’s no secret that we’re enthusiastic about food. Our passion for this hybridity got us thinking, when did our favourite French dishes first come to Britain?

Here at Aubaine, we decided to dig into French culinary history and conduct some research into when food became popular in Britain. We thought that surely some of our beloved French dishes would have been around longer than the likes of toad in the hole, but we were wrong.

So, we turned to Google N-Gram Viewer and looked at hundreds of books throughout history to find the first relevant mention of different kinds of food in Britain. We looked at popular dishes in the following categories: French, British, Italian, Mexican, German, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Greek and Middle Eastern.

Take a look at the results for yourself – and yes, toad in the hole really has been around longer than fondue!

Find our full set of data at the bottom of this article.

A History of Croissants, Quiche and Fondue

That’s right – the buttery flaky goodness that is the croissant came in as the earliest French food to arrive in Britain in 1829. The mid-1800s introduced a range of French dishes, including foie gras and bourguignon. In 1842, ratatouille emerged and has since become a favourite amongst vegetarians.

french food history timeline

It wasn’t until a century later that more iconic dishes arrived, including cottage pie in 1899 and fondue and steak tartare in the early 1900s. The middle of the century saw the rise of coq au vin, poutine and quiche – dishes that shaped the British culinary scene into what we know it as today.

british article breaker

A History of Pies, Chocolate and the Great British Sunday Roast

The traditional pie has been ranked the earliest British dish, appearing in books from 1673. Having a sweet tooth also stretches back more than 300 years, as chocolate houses started opening in London in 1695. The most quintessentially British food, the scone, popped up nearly a century after the pie.

graphic showing the history of British food

The 1800s saw the rise of the Sunday roast and the full English breakfast, but it wasn’t until the 1900s when most beloved British dishes emerged, with the likes of fish and chips, beans on toast, beef casserole and scrambled eggs.

italian article breaker

A History of Pasta, Pizza and Gelato

Arguably the world’s favourite food, pasta has dominated the British culinary scene since 1819. Lasagne emerged in the same year, followed by risotto nearly 60 years later.

graphic showing the history of italian food

Italian food bloomed in the United Kingdom in the 1900s, where our favourites were gradually incorporated into British society over a span of 80 years. From pizza in 1920 to spaghetti bolognese in 1959, there has been no bigger influence on British household meals than Italian cuisine.

mexican article breaker

A History of Tacos, Burritos and Fajitas

What’s not to love about Mexican cuisine? With spice, vibrancy and flavour, it’s not surprising that once British people acquired a taste, they didn’t want to let it go.

history of mexican food
Guacamole proved popular in the 30s, while chilli con carne, burritos and tacos all emerged 30 years later. Fajitas erupted most recently in 1980, now a popular dish favoured in most households.

german article breaker

A History of Hamburgers, Schnitzels and Gulasch

We’ve all heard of schnitzels and bratwursts, but the earliest type of German food to grace Britain was the trusty hamburger in 1815. With bratwurst and gulasch making a name for themselves in the 1850s, the schnitzel didn’t find popularity until 1904.

the history of german food
Other German dishes, such as Sauerbraten and Bratkartoffein were introduced in the mid-90s, making currywurst the most recent in 1981.

thai article breaker

A History of Green Curry, Red Curry and Pad Thai

Thai restaurants are becoming increasingly popular with British people seeking new and unique flavours and seasonings. The three most loved Thai dishes were introduced to Britain within 16 years of each other.

the history of thai food
Red curry became popular in 1982, followed by green curry a year later. The simple and delicious Pad Thai made its way from the streets of Thailand to land on British soil in 1998, something that we’re all thankful for.

indian article breaker

A History of Korma, Tikka Masala and Naan

We’re thankful for the 1900s. It brought us contact lenses, microwaves and radio broadcasting. What else? It’s when all of our favourite Indian dishes boomed in the United Kingdom.

the history of indian food
From chicken korma and naan bread transforming the culinary scene in the 20s to tikka masala and vindaloo cooking up a storm in the 50s, Indian cuisine is definitely up there as one of Britain’s favourite foods.

chinese article breaker

A History of Satay, Stir Fry and Spring Rolls

Like Indian food, Britain also welcomed an influx of Chinese delicacies in the 1900s. As one of Britain’s most loved takeaway options, we have become obsessed with flavours from the East.

the history of chinese food
The mighty chicken chow mein first erupted in 1928, although the likes of stir fry, spring rolls and sweet and sour chicken weren’t popular until the 60s.

spanish article breaker

A History of Tortillas, Paella and Gazpacho

Can’t travel to the Meditteranean every week? It’s a good job that Spanish food is now available at the click of your fingers. It all started when the tortilla came to Britain in 1912.

the history of spanish food
Paella gained prominence shortly after in 1916, followed by gazpacho and croquettes 20 years later.

japan article breaker

A History of Sushi, Ramen and Tempura

The UK’s appetite for Japanese exports has risen enormously in the past decade, with sushi and ramen being lunch-time favourites. You might be surprised to learn that it was tempura that first came to Britain in 1913, followed by sushi in 1929.

the history of chinese food
Just like several popular Chinese dishes weren’t popular until the 60s, it was this decade that saw the rise of ramen, miso soup and katsu curry.

greek article breaker

A History of Moussaka, Souvlaki and Baklava

Greeks are the masters of grilled and skewered meats, blessing the UK with the delicious gyro since 1887. Moussaka and baklava were introduced in the same decade in the 1900s, followed by Greek salad and souvlaki 30 years later.

The history of greek food
Brits adopted the refreshing tzatziki dip in 1981, but it’s kleftiko that arrived most recently in the UK in 1991.

middle eastern article breaker

A History of Hummus, Halloumi and Shawarma

Today, you can find hummus and halloumi around every corner. These marvellous Middle Eastern creations have found a new home in the UK, with people swarming for hummus at the supermarkets.

The history of the middle east
The chickpea dip has been around since 1924, with falafel, mansaf and tahini all emerging in the mid-1900s. Another notable dish, shawarma, gained popularity in 1982 and has since been a takeaway favourite.

French and International Culinary History in Britain

If you assumed that it would be a classic French dish first recorded in the history books, you’d be mistaken. The British pie was recorded at the earliest date of 1678, followed by chocolate, scones and haggis. These old traditional dishes remain as popular as ever. But, which would be the first international dish to gain prominence in the UK?

It turns out that the German hamburger arrived on British soil in 1815. Italian pasta and lasagne were both recorded in 1819, followed then by a series of French dishes in the early 1800s including ratatouille and foie gras. Believe it or not, the Greek gyro is older than quiche which didn’t emerge until 1944. The most recent dish is none other than Pad Thai, with its first recording in 1998.

To summarise: 

  • The earliest French dish was the croissant in 1829 
  • The earliest International dish was the humble British pie in 1678
  • The most recent French dish was quiche in 1944
  • The most recent International dish was Pad Thai in 1998

Methodology 

All statistics that feature in this article have been collated using open data from Google N-Gram. The study looked at thousands of foods from a variety of cuisine types. The data was taken from the first attributable mention of the specific food item in a British English book.

Please find the full raw dataset here:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/17hqJ5suYpr5u18tv51flSvchv6KyHl49MbIWiXfgYCA/edit#gid=0

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